Monday, July 19, 2010

Guns fall silent as football fever grips Mogadishu.

By Guled Mohamed
Special Correspondent
The East African

21 June 2010.

The normally silent mess where senior officers take their meals bursts into life amid wild celebrations with each goal scored by an African team. The AMISOM officers’ usual calm demeanour is overtaken by emotions, their football fanaticism revealing itself with every moment of the beautiful game.

The African Union Mission to Somali officers’ usual calm demeanour is overtaken by emotions, their football fanaticism revealing itself with every moment of the beautiful game.

The World Cup – the first ever to be played on African soil- has become a much-needed leisure pastime, for the peacekeepers who are helping to restore normalcy in a country devasted by a 20-year old civil war.

After a day’s hard work in the humid Mogadishu conditions, they now spend their evenings enjoying a football game in the cool Indian Ocean sea breeze.

And they are not a lone in celebrating the game. The football bug has touched virtually everyone in Somalia – including the young soccer-mad Somali boys and mothers.

The Somalis’s love of the game has been further encouraged by their world famous pop star son K’naan whose song, waving the flag, is Coca Cola’s official World Cup song. The Canadian based singer is of Somali origin.

The effects of the soccer frenzy are far reaching and mind-blowing as well.

In Mogadishu, there’s a perception that guns are quieter now

Many people believe the gunmen who have made Mogadishu so inhospitable are also watching the beautiful game, hence the relative calm with fewer violent incidents, by Mogadishu standards.

This is despite the fact that the two main insurgent groups in Somalia have declared a total ban on viewing the World Cup in areas under their control. The Al-Shabab militias and their copycat Hizbul Islam group say the tournament is encouraging immorality and nudity.

The truth, however, may be that the tournament is diverting the focus of their child soldiers!

But the desire of many residents in Mogadishu and elsewhere to catch a glimpse of the football bonanza has not been dampened by the ban imposed by Al-Shabab, the unprecedented killing of two teenagers and the arrest of 30 others watching the game by Hizbul Islam in Mogadishu’s Wardhigley district, as well as the arrest of 14 others in Afgoye, some 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu.

In spite of Hizbul Islam and AlShabab, screenings of live games have secretly sprung up.

The Somali TV station, Shabelle, was last week forced to relocate overnight from the sprawling Bakara market controlled by AlShabab, to a building near the main airport in the government controlled southern Mogadishu in order to re-broadcast the World Cup games and gain a foothold in the seaside Somali capital.

Somali boys are often seen moving from house to house looking for a place to catch the games, when they miss sitting space at the overpacked screenings.

Without a doubt, the World Cup fever has caught up with the resilient Somali population who have endured a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and uprooted millions more since the 1991 ousting of former president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Nearly 1,000 T-shirts, 300 caps and 200 balls reading: "Africa 2010: My Country is Somalia" in the Somali language, and spoting the Somali flag, have been distributed in TFG-controlled areas of Mogadishu, and have been received enthusiastically by young people.

Many of the teenagers were born during the civil war and have no idea of peace or government, and are becoming easy prey for AlShabab and other militants who try to recruit them as soldiers.

Women have also been caught up in the football fever. Indian soap operas and Bollywood movies, traditionally their favourite viewing, have been relegated to second choice.

“My wife has just called to demand a cable TV subscription. She no longer wants to watch her favourite soap operas. Before the World Cup she had no interest in football but now says all her friends now watching the World Cup matches. This is ridiculous,” said a radio reporter who did not want to be named.

Indeed, judging from the football euphoria that has engulfed Somalia, Hizbul Islam and AlShabaab will not be able to stop the soccer-mad people of Somalia from watching all 64 games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.